Beyond Berlin: Summer in Saxony
August 25, 2012
By: Philippa Slaney
When deciding on places to go on a last minute holiday this summer I followed the classic student route of simply looking where was cheapest to fly to with Ryanair. That’s how, equipped with only a small backpack (sneakily and, I’ll admit, quite smugly, avoiding the £50 surcharge for hold baggage), I arrived in Leipzig airport in Germany.
I think it’s fair to say that Germany is, to say the least, underrated as a student tourist destination. The predominant reaction when I told people that I was heading there was a blank look followed by mild confusion as I assume they pictured me desperately trying to blend into a crowd of tubby middle-aged men in a Biergarten, possibly wearing lederhosen. But with cheap flights, cheap alcohol, and some really fun cities, I feel that more people should give Germany a chance.
We touched down in mid-August and were surprised to walk out into bright sunshine and an intense heat-wave. For some reason I had sort of assumed that the weather in the former East of Germany would be grey and dreary even in summer, but once there we were thankful for the abundance of excellent Italian ice-cream shops. Bratwurst, currywurst, and pastry stalls were also everywhere, offering tourists and a surprising number of locals a taste of incredibly stereotypical German cuisine.
As the hometown of Bach and Wagner, amongst others, Leipzig boasts a rich cultural history and lots of museums, which fortunately for the slightly lazy student traveller are mostly concentrated within the ingeniously named Martin-Luther-Ring road in the centre of the city. It was also the site of the famous Monday Demonstrations in 1989 protesting against the strict Communist GDR government and its feared secret police force, known as the Stasi, although the museum about this is almost entirely in German and even that is mostly written on scraps of cardboard. However, if the historical side of the city doesn’t seem like your sort of thing anyway, there are also lots of parks to relax in and shops to browse, including the inevitable “McCafé”.
Although Leipzig seems to style itself as a bit of a student and party city, we didn’t actually find many going-out venues in the city centre other than bars and pubs, although there are frequent free summer concerts in the Marktplatz which have a fun and friendly vibe. It seemed like people had had more luck in Dresden, although when we went there we didn’t go out to any actual clubs as we accidentally (but incredibly luckily) arrived in the middle of the Stadtfest, a massive city festival which saw the streets permanently packed and also boasted stalls with giant schnitzel and more flavours of beer than I ever even knew existed, from the almost-drinkable Kirschbier (cherry beer) to the frankly horrific-sounding Bananenweizen (banana beer), which to be honest I didn’t even bother trying.
In Dresden we stayed in Lollis Homestay hostel, which was friendly and and quite cheap but looked a bit as if it had been decorated by a six year old with ADHD and a new pack of Crayola. This seemed like an improvement though as the most memorable feature of out Leipzig hostel, Central Globetrotter, was the communal showers; the East German fondness for getting naked in public was sadly proved to be very much true and not the mythical stereotype we’d hoped for.
We also spent a night in Colditz castle, the site of the famous WWII Allied prisoner of war camp, which now houses (somewhat weirdly) a youth hostel. There’s also a really interesting museum on site about how the imprisoned officers tried to break out of this high security and supposedly inescapable prison: the most famous plan featured the prisoners somehow secretly building a working glider in the roof. Colditz is a bit tricky to reach though, which we managed to make even more difficult due to the fact that we completely missed the train stop at Tanndorf as we didn’t understand the intercom message that it was a request stop only and didn’t notice the stop button above our heads. When we got off at the next completely deserted and dilapidated rural station covered in anti-neo-Nazi graffiti, we fortunately managed to find a bus to Colditz, so didn’t end up stranded alone in the German countryside.
During the summer it seems that a lot of the larger cities in this area hold frequent festivals and events which are great for student tourists as they’re fun, friendly, and have free entry. It’s an interesting alternative to the capital of Berlin, the standard international student hotspot, and if you’re as lucky with the weather as we were you might even get quite an impressive tan there!
Images: Author’s Own